Re-authoring the World:
The Narrative Lens and Practices for Organisations, Communities and Individuals
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The Journey of the Book
Re-authoring the World is born from the womb of a community of friends, colleagues, clients and workshop participants that supported and sustained me over the last three years. The journey started many moons ago when my friend Peter Block, encouraged me to write. His interest in the Narrative approach and work, his questions and ideas have helped me to become clearer about my thoughts, to pay attention as I do the work, and to start imagining a world and a future beyond individual transformation.
As I further explored the ideas in practice with communities and organisations they told me the stories of their extraordinary lives, helped me make sense of the Narrative Lens and Practices in their worlds and collectively miners, nuns, neighbours, leaders and so-called uncredentialed citizens confirmed that I should be a scribe and a voice to their transformation.
The book is birthed from the abundance of an amazing work- and friend-community that taught me and loved every word into being. The book was not interested in speed and definitely would not be rushed, it took as long as it took….it waited patiently for things to be experienced deeply as it ran through my life and work. It refused to be rushed into a premature birth, but now the labour of love and community is ready to be born...
What is the book about?
In the book I invite leaders, coaches, OD consultants, community workers and citizens of this world, to become the author of the many stories they are writing and living. Some of the stories we tell often sound like: “I am always alone”, “We never work together as a team”, and “We are a violent nation”. These kinds of stories are thin descriptions of our lived experiences. Why does this matter? Stories are powerful because they speak about and shape who we are, how we relate to others and who we can become as individuals and communities. These kinds of stories are informed by taken-for-granted ideas and beliefs from our different contexts and societies; they often tell us, “This is just the way things are.” Not so! As we re-author our stories, our lives are transformed and we become participants in shaping “the way things are”. The effect of one transformed story ripples outward to the web of our human connectedness: our families, teams, organisations and nations. Join me in this transformational work as individually and collectively we take up the pen or brush and start writing or painting our lives and systems into preferred ways of being in this world. Re-authoring the world, one narrative at a time!
Who should buy the book?
The book is written for people working in organisations and communities as well as individuals who are curious to try out the Narrative ideas in their lives.
This is how the ideas are told and explained:
Part one provides the background and context. It tells the story of how the Narrative ideas transform and inform one’s life and work, starting with one of my own stories.
Part two is my description of the theory and concepts. It describes and unpacks the values and assumptions that inform the Narrative work.
Part three explores the practices and processes of the Narrative work.
Part four shows how the Narrative work is applied in coaching, leadership and consulting.
Part five delves into the transformational nature of the Narrative work.
Taken as whole, this book makes the Narrative approach and practices a lens and a set of tools with which to see and participate in individual, communal and organisational stories. It provides you, the reader, with my interpretation and understanding of the heart of the work, the skills to practise the work, and a way to see yourself and your place in the world. You will be invited to talk and listen in transformational ways. This book will open up the possibility of creating spaces where the human and the communal narrative can be transformed.
The Voices of the Readers
In the meantime you can listen to the voices of those that have read the book:
“Chené Swart has provided a welcome exploration of life lived “from below” from the specificity of narrative that resists every generalizing system. She shows that it is “from below” that there will come new voice, new self, and new social possibility. The transformative character of narrative is made palpably clear in this discussion. Stopping well short of being “self-help,” Chené offers specific steps that can be taken to mobilize the transformative potential of every “story-teller” among us.” – Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary, author of The Prophetic Imagination
“Not only is this book a remarkable resource guide, but also one that extends an irresistible and compelling invitation, to engage in creating, shifting, and re-authoring personal and communal stories through narrative inquiry and transformative conversations. Timeless in its relevancy, and practical in its universal applications!” – Angeles Arrien, Ph.D. Cultural Anthropologist Author of The Second Half of Life: Opening to the Eight Gates of Wisdom
“This book by Chené Swart is a noteworthy new South African methodological text on the Narrative approach and transformative work on organisational, communal and individual levels. As a seasoned consultant and facilitator, the writer brings the fruit of many years of professional learning, practical experience and internalised thinking in a conceptually new and innovative way, in this book together. This is an excellently pulling together of available knowledge about Narrative research and practice, presented in an authoritative and exciting manner. This book offers a comprehensive framework for analysing the construction and use of stories on all levels of society. The perspectives and guidelines for Narrative work presented in the text is essentially a valuable contribution to existing literature in qualitative research and change methodology.” – Professor Koos Uys, Department of Industrial Psychology & People Management, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
“Chené shows us how to transform our relationships to others and to our own symbolic perceptions in the light of larger, hitherto unimagined, possibilities. Everyone— but especially parents, teachers, therapists, doctors, and community organizers-- will benefit profoundly from this liberating new synthesis of rhetoric, anthropology, psychology, and prophecy. Re-Authoring the World is participatory poetics of the highest order. Its techniques and strategies provide antidotes to the ideologies, kitsch, cant, and media manipulations distorting our common lives. I intend to carry it with me wherever I go.” – Robert Inchausti, Professor of English, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, author of Subversive Orthodoxy and The Ignorant Perfection of Ordinary People
“This book gives a complete overview of the theoretical framework(s) behind the discipline of Narrative practice. However, it goes much further than theory, offering a wide variety of applications and possibilities novel to the field. Most powerfully, it helps ordinary people dream about and develop alternative stories for themselves, their organisations, and communities.” – Johan Herholdt, Systems Thinker and author of Leadership for All and Viable Business Strategies
“In her ground breaking work, using the lens of the Narrative process, Chené Swart opens the eyes of our souls to the importance of the stories by which we live and by which we are either imprisoned or liberated. As a group of US Catholic Sisters, we found ourselves in awe of what Chené and the Narrative process evoked in us in terms of understanding and articulating the story we ARE living and its importance for our world and planet. We are humbled and delighted to be a part of "Re-Authoring the World: The Narrative Lens and Practices for Organisations, Communities and Individuals’ way.” – Nancy Conway, CSJ, Ph.D. Member of the Leadership Team. The Congregation of St. Joseph U.S.A.
“What a gift Chené has brought to the world - the book " Re-authoring the World: the Narrative lens and practices for organisations, communities and individuals"! This is a handbook for anyone wishing to construct a different kind of living, a living of their own choosing and design. This book challenges us to deeply reflect on and put to one side those aspects of our lives which we have either consciously or unconsciously authorised others to create for us. This book lets us know that we have permission to re-authorise our lives. This wonderful handbook provides us with tools of the Narrative practice to re-authorise and begin the journey of re-creating our lives. Thanks Chené!” – Olivia Saunders, professor at The College/University of The Bahamas, a voice of the potential and possibility for an economy that serves all people, their communities and the world
“This book shows a new way to reconcile —based on local cultural practices--business strategies and respect for the human work communities that constitute our organisations. More and more coaches, organisational development consultants, and leaders are interested in working with these ideas. This is the very first reference work about Narrative coaching and organisational practices by the most gifted practitioner and teacher of her generation.” – Pierre Blanc-Sahnoun, MBA, Narrative coach and therapist, founding member of EMCC-France and author of The Art of Coaching
“Chené encourages us all to re-tell ourselves into being because indeed words do open up worlds. Her work marks a moment in the West’s seemingly endless expansion where it can begin to grapple with its legacy of destruction in order to reweave humanness into the world’s future. We need a world where the dominant story is one of sustainability of life, relationships, and the love that sustains us across time.” – Sayra Pinto M.F.A , consultant, poet and author of Pinol: Poems and Vatolandia. Senior Fellow at the Suffolk University Center for Restorative Justice, Boston, Massachusetts
“This book is a gift for our times… for all of us working to support change in the world at this particular moment in our great “evolutionary story”. Especially for those of us schooled in organizational development, Chené has brought fresh light to the conversation. By taking Narrative Therapy from an individual level to a collective and cultural level, she has allowed us to enter that possibility. Power and power relationships are framed and understood in new, life affirming ways. “Words [do indeed] open worlds”…and the words of this book open up current ways of doing and being.” – Deborah Prokipchuk Ackley, Organization Development Consultant and Poet
“The narrative a community accepts as their story can shape who they become. Negative patterns are not easy to change. Chené in this remarkable book explains how we can build a new narrative for ourselves, our children and our neighbours, in turn choosing the future we want. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in how communities can change.” – Paul Born - President and Coach at the Tamarack Institute for Community Engagement and bestselling author of Community Conversations.
“Chené’s work strikes a new chord in the continuing effort of people everywhere to fashion lives of authentic expression. It does that by urging us to make use of the revolutionary power of naming our worlds. Re-Authoring the World invites us to look afresh at questions of which phenomena ought to be spoken about and who ought to do the speaking. When we bring forward those stories which matter to us and tell them in our own voices, argues Chené, we transform ourselves and social relations on our communities, and we build the power to dismantle social structures established to render some people ‘disposable’.” Act on Chené’s invitation and become a part of transforming our world.” – Tracey Thompson, Director and Oral Historian “From Dat Time”: Oral and Public History Institute University of The Bahamas
“Chené has gifted the coaching and consulting community with a Narrative Practice field book that simply makes sense. The practices she so deftly names and illustrates come up alongside the vast toolkit of our field and take their rightful place among the most useful few. If you aren’t prepared to have a different relationship to problem-saturated stories and live into a new narrative or help people, teams, organizations or communities to do so, read it for the inspirational stories of mothers and “leaders”, managers and miners, neighbourhoods and nations who are doing the essential work of re-authoring the world.” –Lisa Connors, Hybrid Consultant, NeXtwork Partners, Detroit, USA
“Chené’s Re-Authoring the World is a lucid, in-depth perspective for everyone interested in the transformative art of collaboration. Narrative techniques and approaches will be key for unlocking collective wisdom. Her work will inform, instruct, and invite practices for creating together a world worthy of our best selves.” – Alan Briskin, Ph.D., co-author, The Power of Collective Wisdom and author, The Stirring of Soul in the Workplace
“There have been pioneers who have bridged disciplines to bring wisdom from a body of knowledge that had not yet been brought into the field of organizational development. Peter Senge did it with systems thinking and David Kantor took insights from family therapy to how coaches can read a team’s communications dynamics. Chené Swart has unlocked the wisdom of Michael White and David Epston’s years of work with Narrative Therapy and brought it to the fields of coaching and organizational development. Chené has applied her deep understanding of the most profound aims of Narrative Therapy—to honor the story we each hold within us as an unique and unfolding identity to be cherished and honored—to guiding people through a transformative process. This is her gift to the world. This book delivers that gift.” – Christine Cavanaugh-Simmons, consultant, coach and author of “The Three Stories Leaders Tell: The What and Way of Using Stories to Lead”
“Many books offer ways for us to improve the world. However, in skimming the surface with "tips" and "tools", few succeed in offering direction for the transformative change we need now more than ever. In Re-authoring the World, Chené Swart offers us a courageous approach that reaches deep into the fabric of our shared realities-- the stories we tell about "the way things are.” She gifts us with a practice central to a resilient future for humanity: the ability to edit and re-tell the stories that shape the foundation of our communities and organizations. The purpose? To engage together in real and practical ways to create more spacious possibilities for our common futures.” – Alexander Fink, Social Work and Youth Work Practitioner and Instructor in Leadership Education and Development at the University of Minnesota--Twin Cities
“In this book, Chené offers up the powerful work of Narrative practice with a simplicity and authenticity that demonstrate the essence of the work itself - developing and maintaining, as leaders and members of any community, a relentless commitment to curiosity, inquiry and the exploration of alternative perspectives. Chené’s work, and the powerfully present manner in which she delivers it, have gifted our organization with a greater sense of awareness and attention to the stories we tell--the powerful ways in which they shape our shared experiences, frame our relationships, and impact our success—and ultimately the power we hold, personally and collectively, to re-narrate them.” – Sheelagh Davis, Coordinator of Learning & Development, BC Nurses' Union, British Columbia, Canada
“This book is needed for generation that is in a continual state of authorship through social media and never ending connectivity. Our individual and collective stories must also be re-authored at an increasing speed as culture and technology change at an ever increasing speed. This is also a book for aspirational leaders that serves as a guide for shifting our individual stories and thus our collective stories to set a clear course towards transformational positive change. Narrative work gets to the core of where long-term and generative change can be sparked. In addition Narrative work turns the scientific paradigm of client/expert relationship on its head, focusing with precision on what is meaningful.” – Andy Sontag
“Narrative approaches to learning, counselling, coaching and therapy signals a break with the traditional focus on pathology and instead provides a powerful way in which to focus on growth and aspiration. Chené Swart has created practical ways in which this discipline is turned from concept and philosophy into practice and deeds. Her work already forms an important part of the Post Graduate Diploma in Leadership at the University of Stellenbosch Business School and has influenced my own thinking and practice as a consultant, coach and facilitator of development programmes on MBA degrees. It deserves the widest possible recognition and will contribute to enhancing the capabilities of anyone who is involved or interested in aspirational personal growth.” – Christo Nel, Programme Director of Executive and International MBA Programmes and assistant Professor Leadership at Nyenrode Business University in the Netherlands and author of Transformation without Sacrifice.
“This book is an extremely valuable and needed contribution to the field of Narrative. It is a must-read for experienced and aspiring narrative practitioners alike, as well as anyone else seeking to affect transformation in human systems. The practices in this book, consistently applied, have the potential to bring about lasting transformative change in individuals, families, communities, organisations, countries and as the title suggests, maybe even the world.” – Sonja Blignaut, Narrative Practitioner, Coach and Founder of More Beyond Pty Ltd.
“This is such an inspiring read. Chené offers a fresh perspective on how to bring the transformative Narrative, not only into our work-communities, but also into our personal lives...to take ownership of the re-authoring and re-writing of own stories. To create conversations that shifts our mindsets from problem narratives to alternative narratives.
Here’s a few words from Chené’s book:
The ideas in this book are based on the belief that our participation in the world really matters and that collective ownership of our world can move us forward into an alternative narrative towards the common good.
I am writing to all who are willing to participate in the transformation of our world, one narrative at a time.
The book is an invitation into the transformative Narrative process that opens the possibility of becoming agents and authors of our stories and our world.
This incredibly empowering book is a must-read for anyone looking for the strength, courage and determination to share in the transformation of our world. Be prepared to shift your attitude, to be inspired and to grow and expand in all ways thinkable! “ - Annalise Jennings Director of Dynamic Exchange. Author and creator of ‘Whole of Community Change’ Transforming Indigenous communities.. one narrative at a time!
“This book will ‘make a mark’ in Narrative practice. Re-authoring the World will do what Peter Senge’s Field Book did for organizational learning; offering narrative practitioners an accessible ‘how to’ book, grounded in theory, yet geared to practice. Chené’s starting place and framework is simple, yet robust: if you don’t like the story you’re in, then change the story. Re-authoring the World goes on to offer practice-based perspectives on how to change the story – how to confront our taken-for-granted beliefs, identify a preferred narrative, and re-author our stories when we become stuck in narratives that no longer serve us. That’s Chené’s gift to us – a narrative tool box for changing our selves by changing our stories.” – Nick Nissley, ED.D Dean of Business Technologies, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Cincinnati, USA
“In Re-authoring the World, Chené Swart gives us the inspiration and the tools to shift our thinking and change our future. By sharing her own story –– and the stories of individuals and groups around the world –– she gives us the ability to see through a new lens and use a new language to reshape our own narratives and those of our neighbourhoods and communities. What a gift!” - Leslie Stephen, Editor, www.abundantcommunity.com
“This book represents a refreshing departure from the current trend to produce purely how-to-do- it therapy manuals. It captures the spirit of Narrative work, where the personal becomes political. Never fear though, it also becomes the definitive word on how to apply Narrative ideas to the area of coaching and consulting.” – Jeffrey Zimmerman, Ph.D, Director of Bay Area Family Therapy Training Associates; author of "If Problems Talked": Narrative Therapy in Action.
“This book is a must-read for organization development practitioners who want to deepen their effectiveness with clients. In Re-Authoring the World, Chené Swart takes us beyond the methodologies of change to the use of a Narrative lens as a philosophical foundation. From this stance, the skills, gifts, and knowledge held by the client are used to guide the work and the consultant becomes a co-journeyer in the choosing and thickening of a preferred narrative. Whether you are coaching individuals or working with a large organization, this book will give you skills to help your clients experience enduring transformation!” – Gayle Hilleke, MSOD, AU/NTL Class 39, Narrative Organization Development Practitioner
“This book is not just about discovering the transformational nature within Narrative practices, but about the beauty and abundance within, around and between us. It is a compendium of ways of thinking and conversing in a postmodern Narrative paradigm that will serve various generations of consultants, parents, psychologists, counsellors, life coaches, leaders, educators, clergyman, etc. Chené uses her own narrative and weaves it together with other voices, forming a ‘continuous-in-the-making quilt’ that gives warmth, depth and a multitude of possibilities. She embraces diversity and deconstructs power themes with respect and grace. Herewith my appreciation and thanks to Chené for sharing her journey and thoughts unreserved.” – Carl S du Preez, Educational Psychologist, Narrative Practitioner, Research Coach, Nature lover and Director of the Network for Life Centre
“More often than not chronic, lifestyle-related diseases are at least partially the result of a number of unsound health choices patients have made repetitively over time. Healing requires such patients to recognise their harmful health habits and the stories sustaining these, and develop alternative health stories that would enable them to start living towards a different health outcome. Health care practitioners can play a vital role as facilitators in this process, though this is often easier said than done. This book has inspired me to listen more deeply and widely, and given me a new perspective on living my role as facilitator to patients committed – or committing – to developing their alternative health stories.” – Dr Sarah le Grange, Phytotherapist
“With this carefully crafted book, Chené offers a great gift of insight and clarity to all those who have imagined a life richer in connection and purpose. Compassionate in her treatment of struggle and pain, Chené provides guidance and tools helpful to all readers wanting to develop life stories to which they can truly belong. Steeped in the water of empowerment and possibility, this infusion of scholarly theory and practical lived knowledge combine to serve up a refreshing brew that strengthens and heals, making assessable to all meaningful empowerment and enriching transformation. “ – Dr Darryl Grigg Registered Psychologist, Management Consultant and Executive Coach.
"The Narrative approach laid out in this brilliant book will provide you with insights, new frameworks and tools - but more importantly a strong sense of agency. Through our multiplicity of stories we connect and see each other as human becomings. Having people like Chené Swart in this world is a gift and a blessing for any community. Thank you!" – Tue Juelsbo, Kaospilot & Management Consultant
“Re-authoring the World will change the way you perceive yourself and your place in the world. It's been said that you see the world as you are, and the self-knowledge you gain as a reader of the book, will give you the tools which are required to make the internal shifts necessary in re-authoring your perception of not only yourself, but many of taken-for-granted assumptions and perceived limitations that have shaped your understanding of the world. Chené Swart, possesses the gift of passion for transformation on the personal, social, spiritual, emotional levels of life. Her expertise as a deep listener in her workshops, has provided the public with the gift of various nuanced observations about the human experience, and this will provide readers with the tools and approaches they will need to radically transform their lives and the lives of others around them.” -- Siyade Gemechisa, M.S., Producer for Sandscribe Media, Social Activist, Co-creator of a Re-authored World
“Chené Swart's new book will take your breath away. I am overcome by the power of the narrative. It is not just about the individual story but the power of the collective story for our families, communities, organizations and nations, … This is a must read for a world seeks hope and change.” – Joan O. Wright, MSW, MCC, leadership and organizational development consultant. Author of UP: Pursuing Significance in Leadership and Life
“Re-Authoring the World is a powerful, important and heartfelt book that reminds us again and again to consciously take ownership of the stories that we tell about our world and ourselves. Further, it offers us profoundly elegant tools and practices that support us in re-authoring the stories that reside at the core of our identity.” – Gary Petersen, Principal of Petersen and Associates, and Director of Public Works for the City of Salinas, California
“Through her inspiring story, and the power of Narrative frameworks, Chené invites us to consciously discover and choose the best of who we are and who we are becoming. Re-Authoring the World offers an insightful and activating lens for leadership and personal development.” – Valerie Nishi, BSc, MBA, Leadership Development Educator, The Refinery Leadership Partners and Co-Founder of the Women's Leadership Foundation
“I was struck by the power of this Narrative practice and Chené’s ability to describe it in a way that is practical and very helpful to me, as an individual and as a coach. The gifts I received from this book were the gift of her voice and her eloquence in sharing her knowledge and insights as well as the gift of a new approach and questions I can use to promote deeper insights, understandings and transformation.” – Gail Angelo, Managing Principal of a firm focused on Executive Coaching and Leadership
“Chené Swart is masterful in using the techniques of Narrative Therapy in groups in order to have conversations that can transform our lives, communities and world. This book gives me great hope that we can change our problem stories and create the alternate communities we desire. If you are a person who longs for transformation in our families, cities, and communities, this is the book for you.” – Marie Hogan, CSJ Social Worker and Member of the Congregation of St. Joseph
“Re-Authoring the World unveiled a basket of gifts as it took me on a journey through Narrative work. By reflecting on each chapter, my understanding of this body of knowledge is continually influenced and enriched. There are so many stories that are ready to be re-authored and lives to be transformed. This book presents readers with a tremendous amount of insights and examples to uncover and explore an alternative world of possibilities.” – Gerhard Redelinghuys, Leadership Development Specialist, South Africa
“Chené’s writing is refreshing and cleansing, liberating and daunting, like standing under an exotic waterfall! She highlights possibility, not problem, taking us to a place that questions our ingrained cultural and social beliefs and what we allow to define us. She shows us how to untangle ourselves from what are often stifling and homogenized ideas that are passed down from generation to generation, how to free ourselves of other people's notions and expectations of who they think we are or should be. Chené also shows us how the simple use of language, the words we choose can affect how we see ourselves and relate to each other in such profound and reverberating ways. She clarifies the relationship between the individual and the collective, helping us to understand how we view ourselves affects the whole world - past, present and future. She opens us up to realize how we've willingly become victims of our own self constructed narratives that are so limiting and empowers us to rewrite, reconstruct. This realization is both terrifying and beautiful because of the potential for change; it is only through this realization that the shift to happiness and freedom can come to us, which then in turn has the possibility to transform into happiness and freedom on a global scale.
Chené’s book has given me the gifts of understanding and hope, truth and transparency. It has opened me to see with clarity the gift of freedom I have as an artist, and how my own art can be a vehicle for change. I can create a world - paint an image from my perspective, from how I feel, choose the colours and create a window into newness, into possibility that can in turn open up newness and possibility for others. Beauty isn't in the image, it's in the individuality.” –Danielle Acerra, Artist
“The gifts that I received were that the Narrative approach helps to get us un-stuck from being a victim of circumstances. I now understand how to reframe reality through re-authoring. The Narrative approach is an appreciative approach that focuses on possibility and not only the problem.” – Francois Steyn, Managing Director of Gravitas Organisation Development Consultants
“Re-authoring the World is fiercely and wonderfully written. I have an image of an orchestra led by a beautiful conductor – Chené brings all the diverse instruments into harmony and symphony. Chené is that conductor in a way, and "re-authoring" is just like conducting: giving voices back to those who thought they were voiceless and without talent.” – Khulukazi Fungiwe Dlakavu, Managing Member Dlakavu Psychology Consulting
“Human beings are story-making creatures. In her wise and generous book, Chené Swart taps our deep instinct for story to fuel and enrich the ways we work and live together in these challenging times.”— Barbara McAfee, author of Full Voice: The Art and Practice of Vocal Presence
“Re-Authoring the World has a way with words that pulls the reader in close and as it celebrates the voice of personal experience, it invites a deeper consideration of subjectivity and what informs it. Chené’s work reveals a loyalty to the ideas of Narrative Therapy and her passion for its creative capacity to engage transformation is persuasive.” –Hilda Nanning, MSW, RSW, RCC, Narrative Therapy Educator and Therapist
“Chené provides an insightful contribution to Narrative work that presents both the simplicity and complexity of this way of seeing the world, making it readable for interested parties across a broad spectrum.” – Lyn Lupke, Psychologist
"What I love is that Chené lives what she writes. This supports her goal of an authentic and skilful reweaving of the psychological and sacred threads of our life stories. Her book holds healing and hope for us as individuals, for our families and for the communities we inhabit". – Ward Mailliard, educator at Mount Madonna School.